India recently celebrated its 64th year of Independence. Given the long journey the country undertook and the challenges it overcame, one should say the achievements are remarkable. Even when other post-colonial independent countries murdered their nascent democracies and slipped into dictatorship, Indian democracy survived, thanks to the vision of the forefathers of our country.
The political freedom we achieved in 1947 was not a gift from the imperial British. It was the culmination of decades-old, if not centuries, struggle led by greats like Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Mahatma Gandhi had built a unique resistance based on ahimsa (non-violence) against the colonial rule. Our country thus owes its independence to these true sons of our mother-land.
That said, one has to look at the other side of the story. It’s true our democracy survived and we built strong institutions accountable to the people. We have a liberal polity and a flawless electoral system. But, does it mean that we are free of challenges?
The term ‘independence’ still remains a subjective thing. There are many grave issues from which our country needs to be liberated. Some of these acute problems are poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, corruption, violence against women among many more. The country should also take internal security threat seriously as Naxalism and religious terrorism are turning out to be grave concerns.
Unlike previous years, the 64th Independence Day was celebrated amid concerns. Many political analysts painted a grim picture, citing problems ranging from Kashmir to Jangalmahal. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speech itself was a reflection of this grim reality.
The PM said his government was working for “inclusive growth” and urged the Maoists to abjure violence and come forward for talks. He further asked the “dissatisfied and alienated” groups in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir to experience the potential of Indian democracy.
The PM’s speech was much like a manifesto for the country. When the PM spoke to the people of the country on the Independence Day, the Kashmir valley was burning. The government was unable to quell violent protests in the valley that started in June. Over 60 people have been killed in protests ever since. Most of the Valley has been under continuous curfew and the people’s anger has been spreading. The situation in Kashmir should have brought under control earlier. A solution is possible only by winning over the people, and not with force. The government should work on a political consensus so as to isolate the designs of the separatists.
Another major challenge is the Maoist problem. The Naxals have gained momentum in recent years and enjoy the support of the tribal people living in the red corridor. Though the Prime Minister himself admitted that Maoists are the largest internal security problem of the country, the government looks clueless on how to go ahead in the fight against Naxals. It’s equally true that the government is in a catch 22 situation. It can’t use the army against its own citizens. And it can’t let the Maoists continue their killing spree either. There has to be a comprehensive strategy. The government has to immediately address the problems of the poor and deprived sections in the Maoists-controlled areas.
Rampant corruption is another key challenge. India urgently needs to check corruption if it wants to improve governance and the poor to benefit from government schemes. However, the recent examples show that corruption and scandals cripple governance. It also tarnishes the government’s image. Look at the Indian Premier League scandal and the corruption allegations raised against the organising committee of the Commonwealth. The country needs to set up an institutional mechanism to cope with this threat.
Poverty, everybody agrees, is the greatest challenge. And the government cannot find an instant solution to this problem. But the focus of the governance should be poverty eradication. According to the recently released Multidimensional Poverty Index of the UN, more people live in poverty in eight Indian states than in 26 of sub-Saharan Africa`s poorest countries. This was a stunning fact. The UPA government has undertaken several welfare programmes like NREGS and Bharat Nirman. That’s appreciated. But the government should invest more in job creation and set up efficient and effective public distribution system. The poor of this country are also reeling under high prices. Better PDS would help the government intervene in the market directly and, to an extent, check the prices.
These are certain key challenges the country is facing. The government’s role should be on the fore-front to tackle these problems, while encouraging unity among all the citizens. Because this will be the country’s greatest test of independence in the 21st Century.